Guest post by Sam McKoy.
This is a photo I took of myself looking west from the headwaters of Rivers Inlet and Owikeno Lake amidst the Coast Mountains north of Pemberton. This 2013 ski traverse was 27 days long and in 2013.
Identity. I used to identify myself as a soccer player, skier and paddler. Years progressed: I’d identify as an adventurer, a guide, a photographer, a student, a Pembertonian, a Canadian. The clothes I wear, the things I talked about, the actions and activities I undertook fit my identity. I never gave much thought to it or to how this has morphed over the years. Whether you’re an environmentalist, an activist, an artist or a soldier: an identity is something many hold to to define who they are, what their values are, etc. I can’t speak to everyone but my identity has been has been important to me; something that roots me.
First Nations people of Canada lost their identity I try to relate to how I would feel if my language, all the names of the mountains, rivers, plants and places, my self-image, ceremonies, my spirituality, my values, my practices were all uprooted and taken away. I would be devastated. Many are still grappling with the devastation of loss the loss of that identity. As I white male, I ask myself: Pemberton, Mount Currie, Green River, etc.? The land was not given for us to name amongst ourselves. These names are just a piece of what stole the identity of the Lil’wat People in “insert name here”, and it’s just one example of many places. When considering wellness, one has to remember that identity can be fragile and the consequences, huge.
Did you know that Bella Bella, a town with very high youth suicide rates saw a dramatic decrease in the rate of suicide when they found ways to reconnect their youth with the land and their identity? It wasn’t social workers prescribing mental health programs of counselling and whatnot. That is not to say those aren’t important either, but I want to emphasize the implication of identity because it was through song, traditional practice, expression of culture, etc. that the suicide rates went down. In regaining identity. There is potential for change and a positive future. It involves #reconciliation